Band of Outsiders Interview
Speaking with Scott Sternberg
Band of Outsiders, the cult fashion label, was born in Los Angeles almost ten years ago, started by a young man with absolutely no fashion experience but a good eye, impeccable taste and a passion that was right on time. Eventually growing to include two women’s collections aptly called ‘Boy’ and ‘Girl’ with aesthetics that perfectly match the names, and finally ‘This is Not a Polo Shirt’. Scott Sternberg was the mind and vision behind Band of Outsiders and we were lucky enough to recently catch up with him in his spacious Hollywood studio.
Lucy Rose: You started your career as an agent in Hollywood, it seems like such a huge contrast to where you are now, how did this come about?
Scott Sternberg: You know, I ended up in that role because, sort of by chance, I moved out here to be in the movies so I went to CAA this big agency because that’s what you do, you become an assistant and you get to meet all these people in your freshman class, and that’s sort of the way to do it, get to learn the lay of the land, how to answer to phone, roll call, all these silly things. And I sort of surprisingly loved it there socially and in terms of the environment and in terms of the activity. But really didn’t plan in staying there. I left, I worked for a client for a year as a writer and then I ended up going back to CAA but in a different context. I was an agent but not the wheeling, dealing, actor sort of slick guy. I was working with Talent but also with technology and technology companies and really trying to figure out, at the time, which they still are trying to figure out, what do these new mediums, like video internet games, mean to old Hollywood and just doing more of a business approach to all of that. So I was that, but I wasn’t the cliché of that. And I’m not the cliché of a fashion designer. I’m trying to look at the business in a different way but with the same kind of approach. I’m definitely not part of the fashion community out here in our little satellite office so I think they strangely tie together in a lot of ways.
LR: Was there a transfer of skills? Was there something that you learnt at CAA that is really relevant to what you are doing now?
SS: It’s the hustle, and again, not in the cliché term of a hustle, but you really have to, as an entrepreneur and as an agent. In an environment like that you’re left to make your name and make your way and you really have to work hard and figure things out and be quite smart about how to get what you want out of people, know who to ask for things and all that stuff. So, yeah it’s a business, all this stuff. From a design perspective, no, not one thing about the creative process, it couldn’t be more different. But unfortunately my job is that a lot, but it’s a lot of other things too.
LR: It seems like a fairly rebellious, or punk move, without having any formal training in fashion, you took a huge career turn and started Band of Outsiders? Ultimately your job began designing clothes before you had a business to handle..
SS: Yeah, punk is one word, arrogant is another, delusional is probably what a lot of my friends thought at the time. But yeah, I think it’s such an entrepreneurial industry, If you’re looking at starting a business or having a brand, which is what is was about for me, I wanted to make something and I wanted it to be about something bigger than what is was as a product, I wanted a brand. If you really look at the gamma in terms of what you can make that doesn’t have huge development costs and doesn’t require engineering expertise or those skills you have to hire on. Or just on a really basic level of how the industry works. I mean, stores, buyers do well and get paid well when they find new talent. People are motivated, same with editors, to scout out what’s new, it’s the spirit of what fashion is. New, new, new. And I love clothes and I knew so much about them just loving them and wearing them and really being a student of them as design objects growing up. It was the most obvious and the least obvious for a while, and then it just became obvious - of course I’ll do this, I’m in LA, there are resources here. You know, I have to buy fabric, not moulds to make technology products.
LR: With that in mind what is your attitude towards fashion school, or art school? is it something that you encourage, or something that you see as a little redundant?
SS: That’s a tough one, listen, school is a good time to just be and figure out your life. If you have the luxury of a nice upbringing or a scholarship, I think it’s a safe environment to fuck up. If you’re lucky you’ll get a really good mentor or professor, and if you’re smart you’re getting trade skills of some kind. I’ve taught at a lot, guest lecturer and all that stuff, the ones that focus on sketching all the time are just retarded to me, you know it’s sort of like ‘it’s super important’ but man, it’s really just about, and it’s important because the job is about communication and getting your ideas across, so much of making clothes is not sitting in a room sketching and so many designers I meet, that’s what they do. So I think it’s alright if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford it, but I certainly don’t think it’s necessary.
LR: You can make it on your own without it?
SS: No question, and especially making clothes because the market informs anything everyway, at least my approach, because I’m making real clothes, so I’m always so tied to the real world, not to a classroom. I don’t want to put it down though either, because sometimes I’d like to go back to school, just to hang out with low stakes. A critique versus a critics review in a magazine sounds nice.
LR: What was it about the market that allowed for Band of Outsiders to be a good idea - was there something lacking? Or was it something you were just passionate about?
SS: It started with men’s because I love preppy clothes and I couldn’t find preppy clothes that felt modern, or the right fit, and not just cause I’m a skinny guy, the proportion, the attitude of how they drape on a dudes body and the fit, it felt like everything was earnest and preppy. You know Ralph Lauren, God love him, but all of that stuff is very sacred and very earnest and there’s no irony - there’s no comment. There was that and I thought, in terms of product a sort of nerdy and intellectual approach to a brand and to fashion and I didn’t see that anywhere and I enjoy approaching our brand the way we do which is quite literal and sort of self deprecating, but it’s really a fashion brand about fashion in a lot of ways.
LR: How do you find being in Los Angeles where the fashion world is fairly limited, as opposed to New York, which would be far more expected?
SS: I prefer it, because I’m slightly antisocial and I like quiet. I love living here, I’ve spent a lot of time in NY obviously, and I kept an apartment there with a friend for a while, but I just like it here. This is where my life and my home and my friends are. I also like having the advantage of not having to go out to all these things all the time. At the same time, I’m sure it would be helpful in some schemey press sort of way for me to be at a bunch of parties, but it’s not who I am anyway, so I like it.
LR: And you haven’t felt any pressure?
SS: No, I really haven’t, I think there’s maybe opportunities forgone because of it, I don’t know. We have great relationships with the magazines that rule that part of New York, they’re great to us and I think the expectation has never been that I’m going to be on a red carpet with a celebrity. I’m not emanating that. Unless I’m kidding myself, but it seems alright.
LR: How do you feel about LA as a city currently, do you think it’s changing?
SS: I started here as a film guy, and it’s really one city when you’re in that industry, you are in the bubble and everybody talks about that stuff all the time, it’s like fashion, but it’s pretty crazy, it’s its own city. But out of that I’ve been able to see LA in a different way and also see it grow in a different way. It’s why I like it here, I like that it’s still finding itself. If anything, it feels nice that way.
LR: The Polaroid project, or campaign as it is commonly referred to; how did that come about?
SS: I don’t know what it is. That came from needing to have a look book. I think at some point we started calling it a campaign because a lookbook sounded too cute. We’re not buying pages in magazines so it’s, you know, images. I needed to shoot the clothes. You realize as you go that, whatever you see in your head and whatever you’re feeling about your brand, that this is a business of imagery and so you have to contribute that. I shot one campaign on a friend with a digital camera, it was very earnest and narrative and it looked good but it was, like, OK. I wanted to use film. I’d studied photography in college and I just knew it would feel deeper and richer and more beautiful, but I didn’t want to deal with getting a crew and that shit together. Polaroid film, at the time was so easy to get, it was at Rite Aid or CVS. I just got some old cameras and started playing around and it’s exactly how I would light it if I had the choice. It’s so easy and quick, and it was cheap at the time but it just grew into this great thing. We shot Michelle Williams and Jason Schwartzman in a pretty short period of time and they are both people who are very naturally friends of the company, fans of the clothes, and it went super well. That sort of thing just follows itself. But it’s tough, you know, you really want to do something fun and new, and then you think about the whole world and everybody has been mimed.
LR: Was it always meant to be ongoing, or was that just how it evolved?
SS: Everything sort of evolves here, I think there is a conceptual framework that I have for the company and for the brands; Bands, Boy, Girl, This is Not a Polo Shirt, these different things, the context through which we define our product line, the Polaroid’s, have always been something that I thought I would do for 10 years, then on our tenth anniversary, which is next year, we would stop and we would start a new image campaign.
LR: How are you feeling about that currently?
SS: I’m excited about it, I will miss the Polaroid’s, and I think as long as film is around we should do it in some form because it’s so brilliant. I mean there are people trying really hard to replicate it and start it back up again but it’s a great technology and that sort of analog technology is stuff I love and is very much what the brands about. But I’m excited about doing something new too.
LR: What is inspiring or exciting you at the moment?
SS: Exciting me right now… Belts! Belt hardware. It being this color (crème) instead of black. Very exciting things. Surfboards, Raymond Pettibon surfboards, that’s getting me excited right now. You see I’ve extracted them from different Raymond Pettibon paintings (points to collage on desk). Pin tucks and Faded Chino. There you go, there’s your cryptic preview into some upcoming collection.
LR: Where do you imagine Band Of Outsiders to be in 10 years?
SS: In a lot of ways we’re a pretty small little group of brands and I think there is a feeling around us that’s nice and intimate and all that. I hope to take the core of that, without the words small and intimate, and see what that means and feels like as a much bigger brand, that offers product not just for rich skinny people but an interesting wider range of products that isn’t just clothing or the typical accessories you think about. A brand that stands for all the things it stands for now but makes a lot more things.